NEW DELHI: In a bid to crackdown on spread of fake news on its platform, WhatsApp on Wednesday said it is rolling out radio campaigns across various Indian states, asking people to check the veracity of information received as a forward before they share it with others.
The Facebook-owned company has been on an overdrive after it faced severe criticism from the government over circulation of fake news on its platform that incited multiple incidents of mob lynching across India.
“The radio campaign will air starting today across 46 Hindi speaking stations of All India Radio (AIR) across Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that while the current campaign is available in Hindi, there are plans to offer the same in other regional languages over the next few weeks.
These campaigns advise users to verify authenticity of messages before forwarding them and to report content that they might find to be inflammatory. It also cautions users to be careful about forwarding messages that contain misinformation and said doing so, could have serious repercussions.
WhatsApp, which has been slapped with two notices to check the spread of fake news, has taken a series of measures, including restricting the number of forwards and added ‘forward’ label to help users identify such messages. It is also in the process of establishing a local corporate entity.
It has, however, not accepted government’s demand for traceability of messages saying creating such a software will go against the idea of user privacy and end-to-end encryption.
With general elections slated to be held next year in India, the government is taking a tough stance on use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp for spread of misinformation.
The government had warned WhatsApp that it will treat the messaging platform as abettor of rumour propagation and legal consequences will follow if adequate checks are not put in place.
In a recent meeting with WhatsApp Head Chris Daniels, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had asserted that the company find a solution to track origin of messages on its platform, set up a local corporate entity that is subject to Indian laws within a defined timeframe as well as appoint a grievance officer.
India is a key market for WhatsApp, which has over 1.5 billion users globally, as it has more than 200 million in India. Over the last few months, the company has also been in discussions with the authorities to launch its payments service in India.
WhatsApp has also partnered with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) to hold training sessions for community leaders.
These sessions will be conducted in “10 states across the country where there have been worrisome cases of violence and where there will be state polls before the end of the year”, WhatsApp said in a statement.
DEF will help educate government officials, administration representatives, civil society organisations and students.
The training will encourage WhatsApp users to be more open towards other communities to enable them to differentiate between opinions and facts, and to inculcate a habit of verifying information through simple checks before forwarding it to their friends and family, the statement said.
“Our goal is to help keep people safe by creating greater awareness about fake news and empowering users to help limit its spread. In addition to the steps we are taking within WhatsApp, we believe impacting lives through the power of education is critical to helping achieve the vision of a Digital India,” Ben Supple, Public Policy Manager at WhatsApp, said.